Tag Archives: humility

16 March, Desert XIX: Detached lives

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In the hands of the wicked

Revisiting ‘The Imitation of Christ’ after many years, in my Grandmother’s 1936 edition, I realise that it is very self-centred. Here Thomas A Kempis takes the Desert Fathers and Mothers as examples of the Christian life; ‘They hated their lives on earth that they might have life in eternity. ‘ Is that what the Lord asks of us? Do we have to be strangers to the world in order to be intimate friends of God? I think not. Walking in charity and patience surely demands that we live in the world, and love the people in it and indeed the whole of creation, and our own life in it. Loving God’s creation which we can see, is to love the God we cannot see. Love of creation, rather than contempt for it, will bring us back from the brink of destruction. But here is The Imitation: I hope the time spent reading it is profitable!

Consider the lively examples set us by the saints, who possessed the light of true perfection and religion, and you will see how little, how nearly nothing, we do. What, alas, is our life, compared with theirs?

The saints and friends of Christ served the Lord in hunger and thirst, in cold and nakedness, in work and fatigue, in vigils and fasts, in prayers and holy meditations, in persecutions and many afflictions. How many and severe were the trials they suffered — the Apostles, martyrs, confessors, virgins, and all the rest who willed to follow in the footsteps of Christ! They hated their lives on earth that they might have life in eternity.

How strict and detached were the lives the holy hermits led in the desert! …  They used all their time profitably; every hour seemed too short for serving God, and in the great sweetness of contemplation, they forgot even their bodily needs …

Strangers to the world, they were close and intimate friends of God. To themselves they seemed as nothing, and they were despised by the world, but in the eyes of God they were precious and beloved. They lived in true humility and simple obedience; they walked in charity and patience, making progress daily on the pathway of spiritual life and obtaining great favour with God. They were given as an example for all religious, and their power to stimulate us to perfection ought to be greater than that of the lukewarm to tempt us to laxity.

Taken from the translation by Aloysius Croft and Harold Bolton, Digitized by Harry Plantinga, planting@cs.pitt.edu, 1994. This etext is in the public domain.

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7 March, Desert X: Fear 3.

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From The Life of Saint Teresa*

It must be carefully noted – and I say this because I know it by experience – that the soul which begins to walk resolutely in the way of mental prayer and can persuade itself to set little store by consolations and tenderness in devotion, and neither to be elated when the Lord gives them, nor disconsolate when he withholds them, has already travelled a great part of its journey. However often it may stumble, it need not fear a relapse, for its building has been begun on a firm foundation.

Yes, love for God does not consist in shedding tears, in enjoying those consolations and that tenderness which for the most part we desire and in which we find comfort, but in serving him with righteousness, fortitude and humility. The other seems to me to be receiving rather than giving anything.

As for poor women like myself, who are weak and lack fortitude, I think it fitting that we should be led by means of favours: this is the way that God is leading me now, so that I may be able to suffer certain trials which it has pleased his majesty to give me.

I have to admit to lacking fortitude at times, but Saint Teresa admits the same weakness, so I am in good company! But amid the circling gloom ‘God is leading me now.’ 

* In ‘The Complete Works of Saint Teresa of Jesus, Tr E. Allison Peters, London, Sheed & Ward, 1944, p68.

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21 February: Saint Peter’s Chair.

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A couple of sentences at the end of the article* struck me.

‘Why has the Catholic priesthood wanted to present itself over the centuries as perfect, as impregnable? Since the child abuse scandal… this facade has crumbled and our priests are now humbler as a result and fewer in number.’

Read any of the Gospels and we see men who were far from impregnable. Look at the last chapter (21, 14-17) of John:

 This is now the third time that Jesus was manifested to his disciples, after he was risen from the dead. When therefore they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter: Simon son of John, lovest thou me more than these? He saith to him: Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee. He saith to him: Feed my lambs. He saith to him again: Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? He saith to him: Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee. He saith to him: Feed my lambs. He said to him the third time: Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved, because he had said to him the third time: Lovest thou me? And he said to him: Lord, thou knowest all things: thou knowest that I love thee. He said to him: Feed my sheep.

We all know about Peter’s betrayal: this scene of forgiveness and mission came after that; it came in the early days of the New World Order. No-one tried to cover up Peter’s terrible lapse, to pretend it had not happened. No-one made him out to be perfect.

I’m grateful to our own Fr Daniel Weatherley who likened St Peter’s Chair to those held by professors, who bring to the post all their wisdom and experience. Peter was a man of experience, and of hard-won wisdom.

Let’s pray with him: ‘Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you.’

And listen out for the call. Who will I be asked to feed today or tomorrow. What can I offer them?

*Stephen Hough, Struggles of the calling, the Tablet, 17.2.2018, p13.

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1 December: Starry night.

 

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A London night sky.

AS we in the northern hemisphere enter Advent and the darker days of winter, here is a thought-provoking article from ‘Sacred Space’ the Vatican Observatory site.

It shows just how light pollution affects us, and what we miss through our obsessive use of street lighting. This is not just a matter for astronomers. Take away dark skies and we have less to see and wonder at. Dark skies would help us to be more human and humble creatures: no wonder we are scared of them.

Read and ponder. Would the wise men have seen the Christmas star today?

O Lord, open our eyes, And our mouth shall declare your praise.

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19 October: Mission to Reset the Mindset.

 

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Although it is Pope Francis who set us looking at Mission this month, we are also sharing stories from elsewhere in the universal Church, including a group from the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, which serves the Anglican Communion, in England as well as overseas. Reflections from ‘Pray with the World Church’, available on the USPG website.

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The Revd Dr Evie Vernon, Deputy Director of Global Relations, USPG reflects:
‘London is the place for me,’ sang Aldyn Roberts, aka Lord Kitchener, the Trinidadian calypsonian, as he alighted from the Empire Windrush at Tilbury docks on June 22, 1948. ‘Kitch’ and 492 fellow West Indians were responding to a call to rebuild Britain, devastated by theWelcome-poster

Second World War. This was nothing new. Caribbean people had been coming to take care of the UK for centuries. With others from the outposts of empire, they had served during the two world wars. Indeed, many of the Windrush arrivals were former servicemen and women. Many believe that those people who came to Britain from around the world, in the 1940s and after, transformed British society into something more vibrant and colourful. Those Caribbeans who came before 1971 arrived as British citizens to serve what they considered to be their mother country. Nevertheless many of them and their descendants experienced significant prejudice and discrimination. Yet with the poet Scratchylus, they continue to declare, ‘We extended love, humbleness, manners and received hate, but … we are on the mission to

RESET THE MINDSET’.

 God who is gloriously revealed in the diversity of the Trinity, we give thanks for the varieties of culture, talents and ethnicities embodied in humanity. May we celebrate our unity in the midst of our differences. Reveal yourself in the oneness of the Trinity. Amen.

And may I always be ready to adjust my (mind)set!

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26 September. Brownings XVI: nothing has humbled me so much as your love

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“At first and when I did not believe that you really loved me, when I thought you deceived yourself, then, it was different. But now … now … when I see and believe your attachment for me, do you think that any cause in the world (except what diminished it) could render it less a source of joy to me? I mean as far as I myself am considered.

Now if you ever fancy that I am vain of your love for me, you will be unjust, remember. If it were less dear, and less above me, I might be vain perhaps. But I may say before God and you, that of all the events of my life, inclusive of its afflictions, nothing has humbled me so much as your love. Right or wrong it may be, but true it is, and I tell you. Your love has been to me like God’s own love, which makes the receivers of it kneelers.

Why all this should be written, I do not know.”

(from “The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, Vol. 1 (of 2) 1845-1846” by Robert Browning)

EBB wrote for an audience of one, but we can read over Robert’s shoulder, and contemplate and be thankful for our own sources of personal joy, the channels through which God’s love washes over us.

 

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30 June, Little Flowers of Saint Francis XLVI: How Brother Masseo obtained from Christ the virtue of humility and the gift of tongues.

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The forest seems to have been a good place for the early brothers of Saint Francis to find God and their own true selves.

The first companions of St Francis set themselves with all their might to follow holy poverty with regard to earthly things, and to acquire every other virtue, as the sure means of obtaining celestial and eternal riches.  Brother Masseo, hearing wonderful things of humility, and knowing it to be one of the greatest treasures of life eternal, was so inflamed with a love and desire of this virtue of humility, that he lifted his eyes to heaven with much fervour, and made a vow and firm resolution never again to rejoice until he should feel the said virtue to be firmly established in his soul.

From that moment he was constantly shut up in his cell, macerating his body with fasts and vigils and prayers, weeping before the Lord, and earnestly imploring him to grant him this virtue, without which he felt that he was only worthy of hell.

Brother Masseo having passed several days in this state of mind, as he was entering the forest and asking the Lord, who willingly listens to the prayers of the humble, with cries and tears to grant him this divine virtue, he heard a voice from heaven, which called him twice: “Brother Masseo! Brother Masseo!” And he, knowing in his spirit that it was the voice of Christ, answered: “My Lord.” Then Christ answered: “What wilt thou give in exchange for this virtue which thou askest for?” And Brother Masseo answered: “Lord, I will willingly give the eyes out of my head.” Christ answered: “I grant thee the virtue, and command at the same time that thou keep thine eyes.”

And having said these words, the voice was silent; and Brother Masseo was so filled with the grace of humility, that from thenceforward he was constantly rejoicing. And often when he was in prayer he was heard to utter a joyful sound, like the song of a bird, resembling “U-u-u”, and his face bore a most holy and happy expression. With this he grew so humble that he esteemed himself less than all other men in the world. And Brother James of Fallerone having asked him why in his joy he used always the same sound, he replied gaily, that when in one way he found all good he saw no reason to change it.

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18 April, Maundy Thursday: Putting on an apron.

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Putting on an apron, as Jesus did: that can be as serious and solemn as giving one’s life … and vice-versa, giving one’s life can be as simple as putting on an apron.

Blessed Christian de Chergé, Martyr of Algeria.

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22 March. Before the Cross IX: Fresh, accessible and slightly subversive.

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Bearing of the Cross

 

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ekjohnson1/25761762410/in/photostream/

My son is now 14, and thinks he’s much too grown-up for Lego. But I’ve really enjoyed these years of revisiting the world of long six-ers and square flat four-ers, finding myself far more creative now with the pieces than I ever was as a child.

This crucifixion scene is an image designed to appeal to the younger Bible student, of course, as much as to adults. The quotation from Peter’s first epistle connects the death of Jesus with our response in dying to sin and living for righteousness (covenant justice, that is, lest we lapse into moralism). It indicates that its production by EK Johnson was an act of faith and this is important to me, as it is with all Christian art.

But shouldn’t a subject as serious as this be treated with more gravitas than Lego can offer? My inner conservative complains that “Lego Jesus” just seems wrong, diminishing his lordship, maybe, or infantilising his mission.

My inner iconoclast replies that this Lego scene represents a gentle mocking of religious art – with all its trappings of patronage and power; pride; ill-gotten wealth and elitism – and not of the cross itself. Wasn’t the cross always meant to serve as a massive lance to the boil of religious pomposity?

I like this image because I believe that the gospel story should be communicated meaningfully by every possible means. Fresh, accessible and slightly subversive, a Lego representation of Jesus connects and engages with today’s culture in ways that renaissance art and stained glass simply cannot.

EK Johnson is clearly keen for us to grasp the solemnity and significance of the event he depicts. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross … by his wounds you have been healed” reads the text. The apostle Peter is alluding to Isaiah the prophet, making sense of Christ’s crucifixion through the lens of the Hebrew scriptures and the promised “suffering servant”. If we find the Lego distracting or overly provocative, this text should leave us in no doubt that this was the most profound, powerful and momentous event in all of human history. It was the day the God of Israel worked his salvation for the world; for our lives.

Lego might not give us everything we want in a crucifixion scene, but it communicates its historical truth simply and clearly. Every age in religious art has provided its own distortions and distractions, however well-intentioned the artist. We inherit notions of the “sublime” from the Romantics, for example, but it’s a misguided ideal, because it lacks humility. There is certainly humility in Lego. Simple blocks and simple figures remove much of the element of human sophistication. And with that gone, we can begin to grasp – and be overwhelmed by – the love of God demonstrated on a hill in West Asia, two thousand years ago.

Rupert Greville.

Photo credit.

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10 February: Not through vainglory: a response to Virginia Woolf

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Saint Paul never tramped the byways of Palestine with Jesus, but he knew the Jewish Scriptures – to love the Lord your God with your whole being and your neighbour as yourself. He put it this way:

If there is therefore any exhortation in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any tender mercies and compassions, make full my joy, that ye be of the same mind, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind; doing nothing through faction or through vainglory, but in lowliness of mind each counting other better than himself; not looking each of you to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others.

Philippians 2:1-4.

You don’t have to be a Christian believer to look to the things of others, to work towards being of one accord with your neighbours. In a diverse society such as the United Kingdom today, that should be obvious. But that sense of solidarity does not predominate in everybody. I feel that it was what Virginia Woolf missed by trying to live the illusion – her own word – that she was somehow superior to others. Vainglory sums it up precisely.

And realising that it was vainglory to affect such superiority – or so I read her ending – she filled her pockets with stones and waded into the river. Woolf was certainly struggling with despair in her last months. The Hamilton Star recently told how researchers from Canada and Brazil created word clouds from her writings in happier times and those last months.

In the cloud created from her final months, the words include: little, miss, war, nothing, never, can’t and don’t. The researchers write that these “negative words” may indicate Woolf’s “thoughts of lack of efficacy, self-criticism, worthlessness, nostalgia, melancholy and mainly hopelessness.”

This is not to deny the mental illness that blighted Virginia Woolf’s life, which surely contributed to her thoughts of melancholy and hopelessness, despite her many privileges. Nor is it possible to compare her suffering with Paul’s time in chains and prison, nor to deny the power of God’s grace to work in her heart. Suicide is an extreme form of repentance, and Woolf was aware, perhaps morbidly aware, of causing suffering to others, and as her last letter shows, she wanted to end that. Let us, for every one who takes their own life, 

be … confident of this very thing, that he who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ.

Philippians 1:6.

 

And let us remember, with thanks, that there is now formal and informal help for those in great distress that was not available to Virginia Woolf.

MMB.

 

 

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